If the parties are not able to work out a mediated settlement, then and only then may the parties and their attorneys tell the court they must set the case for trial and present the contested issues to the court.
Then the court will be the decision maker in the matter. If the parties successfully come to an agreement at mediation, then the parties and their attorneys are able to set the case for final hearing and the court will enter a final judgment ratifying the agreement the parties created.
When a contested divorce, also called dissolution of marriage, is filed, whether the parties have children or not, they must go to mediation to attempt to work out their contested issues. Mediation is the non-adversarial step in the process that allows the parties to work out the issues, come up with solutions, and hopefully settle their divorce case instead of having to go to trial.
A mediator is not a judge
They cannot force the parties to settle. Most mediators are very good at brainstorming ideas to assist the parties in coming to a point where they will compromise on issues that they have been trying to work out, but have had trouble doing so. If there is a full or even partial agreement, the terms of the agreement are written up and signed by both parties.
What goes on in mediation, stays in mediation
Mediation is confidential. No one can later discuss what happened during the mediation process. If the parties are unable to come to an agreement, nothing said during the mediation process can be divulged at a subsequent court hearing or at any other time.
An agreement that has been settled upon during mediation needs to cover all aspects of that the parties contend are at issue- division of real and personal property, division of retirement accounts, child support, time sharing with the children to name a few.